Culture shock: Neighborhood protests funeral home zoned next door

Asian residents call it religious issue

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The Nov. 5 Johns Creek Planning Commission was packed with residents flourishing signs to show their displeasure about the funeral home rezoning that would place it next door to their Bell Road subdivision.

Wages Funeral Home wants to build a funeral home on 2.2 acres at the southeast corner of Bell Road and Medlock Bridge Road. The property is already zoned commercial (C-1) and a funeral home is an approved use under the city’s zoning code.

The company is applying for an additional curb cut on Bell Road that would be farther east from the intersection with Medlock. The associated driveway with the funeral home would be outside the 75-foot impervious surface buffer of the stream east of the property.

Residents of The Reserve at Foxdale protested the rezoning based on cultural and religious reasons as well as concerns of flooding from the impervious footprint of the funeral home, parking lot and driveway.

Gulil Gulve, a Reserve at Foxdale resident, said as a Hindu, that a funeral home in such close proximity of their homes – there is a large Indian and Asian community living in the subdivision – would be unthinkable.

“It is considered impure for a Hindu to live next door to a funeral home,” Gulve said. “After we attend a funeral, we must shower and have our clothes cleaned.

“Also, there is the adverse traffic impact of 30 or 40 cars in a funeral [procession] trying to get on Medlock Road. That would stop traffic on a road that is busy all the time, and has a lot of school buses on Bell Road.”

The Reserve Homeowner Association President Ron Brodie also spoke against the funeral home use. He said property values would be affected by a business next door that uses toxic chemicals involved in embalming.

Brodie was also concerned about the disposal of human tissue on the premises and the possible cremation of bodies.

“We have a lot of Asians in our community who will not live next door to a funeral home. The sale of numerous homes in [The Reserve] would bring down our home values,” Brodie said.

“The idea of creating the city of Johns Creek was to increase the quality of life for its citizens,” he said. “That has not happened. The traffic is worse. The city wants to build more commercial [development], which just brings more traffic. That is not why we incorporated.”

Resident Robert Fisher said the topography of the property slopes southwest. With the clear-cutting of trees and the impervious surface of the funeral home and parking lot, it would create a large amount of runoff that the stream would not always be able to handle.

“Right now, it is forested with tall trees, and the water stops there. There is only a 4-foot pipe for the intake of the stream to Sugar Mill. To clear-cut the property and compact the parking lot will cause flooding. There are 55 inches of rain in Johns Creek,” Fisher said.

“There needs to be an engineering analysis,” he said.

Planning Commission Chairman Steve Broadbent said he must remind the residents that funeral home is an approved use for the property as it is currently zoned. The request is to move the curb cut to the east end of the property.

“If they wanted to build the driveway on the west end, they would not even have to come before this body,” Broadbent said. “The property is zoned O&I (office – institutional).”

The architect for the proposed development pointed out in rebuttal that the funeral home represented a less intense use of the property than most other uses. It would have only around 20 cars on the property during funerals.

Staff recommended approval of the driveway as the preferred curb cut to the property. Planning Commission recommended approval 4-2. Broadbent and Planning Commissioner Emmett Shaffer opposed it on the grounds of uncertainty about the effects of water runoff.

After the meeting, the residents were still angry and concerned about the idea of a funeral home next door.

“A Hindu should not live within sight of a funeral home. I will see it from my backyard,” said Gulve. “As Hindus, we cannot consider this.”

Chinese residents also have cultural and religious taboos about living near a funeral home.

Kefeng Chen said he had lived in his house 17 years, but if the funeral home is built, he will have to move.

“There is no doubt about that. I will move from my house,” he said.

Opponents say they have 421 signatures to a petition opposing the funeral home and will soon have more online.